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Atrocity, Race, and Region in the Early Haitian Revolution: The Fond d’Icaque Rising  

David Geggus

Set within a larger analysis of class relations in the Haitian Revolution, this is a microhistory that intersects with several important themes in the revolution: rumor, atrocity, the arming of slaves, race relations, and the origins and wealth of the free colored population. It is an empirical investigation of an obscure rebellion by free men of color in the Grande Anse region in 1791. Although the rebellion is obscure, it is associated with an atrocity story that has long resonated in discussion of the revolution. Formerly the least-known segment of Caribbean society, research has shed much new light on free people of color in recent decades, but much remains to be clarified. In certain ways, they are the key to understanding the Haitian Revolution, because of their anomalous position in Saint Domingue society and the way their activism precipitated its unraveling. The Grande Anse region had a unique experience of the revolution in that white supremacy and slavery were maintained there longer than in any other part of the colony. Based primarily on unexploited or little-known sources the article demonstrates the range and depth of research that remains possible and suggests that a regional focus is best way to advance current scholarship on the Haitian Revolution.

Article

Indigenous Slavery in the Caribbean  

Noel E. Smyth

From 1492 until the 19th century, Spanish, French, English, and Dutch colonists enslaved hundreds of thousands of Native Americans and forced them to toil in the West Indies. The history of enslaving Indigenous peoples in the Americas has mostly been obfuscated by colonial European record-keeping practices. Indeed, the written records relegate Native slaves to a profound silence and invisibility, similar to archival erasures of enslaved Africans. While the methodological dilemmas of this topic are significant, there is a growing scholarship focused on Indigenous slavery in the Caribbean. The emerging historiography demonstrates how regional and international Indian slave trades were significant to the development of European colonies in the Americas and how Indian slave trades connected European colonies across national and geographic boundaries. The centuries-long legacy of enslavement and dispossession continues to impact Indigenous communities, often in negative ways. Yet despite all the horrors and violence of slavery, there has been a remarkable resurgence of Indigenous identities, communities, and political movements in the 21st-century circum-Caribbean.

Article

The Legacies of British Slave Ownership  

Catherine Hall

In 1834, the British Parliament’s act to abolish slavery in the Caribbean, Mauritius, and the Cape included compensation for the slave owners to the tune of 20 million pounds. This was equivalent to about 16 billion pounds in today’s money. The compensation was for the owners’ loss of human property, enslaved people. More than 660,000 men and women in the Caribbean were assigned a monetary value for the last time on the basis of which compensation was calculated. Nearly 50 percent of this money was paid to more than four thousand men and women in Britain: these were the so-called absentees, who lived off the proceeds of the labor of the enslaved on plantations and in towns. The rest went to resident slave owners who were for the most part much less wealthy than the Britons. Historians of the nation, such as the great Whig, Thomas Babington Macaulay, have erased Britain’s history of involvement in the slavery business. They chose, as did politicians, to focus on abolition as symbolic of Britain’s love of liberty and to ignore direct British involvement in both the slave trade and the wider business of slavery. Issues of race, slavery, and empire have not been seen as integral to Britain’s history and continue to be marginalized. Compensation has provided a starting point for investigations of British slave owners: the wealth they transmitted to the United Kingdom, their investments in capitalist developments, their acquisition of cultural artifacts and refurbishment of country houses, their political interventions, and their ideas about racial difference. Research on slave-owning families over generations has enriched scholars’ understanding of the daily practices of racialization. All this gives access to forgotten histories.

Article

Political Economy, Race, and National Identity in Central America, 1500–2000  

Dario A. Euraque

The relationship between historically specific ideas of race and national identity in Central America between the onset of Spanish colonialism in the region, in about 1500, and the end of the 20th century is very complicated. The relationship is rooted not only in the political economy of the region and subregions that were under Spanish colonialism, but also in Spain’s resistance to incursions of British colonialism in the area, particularly on the North Coast, well into the late 18th century, and in some areas of Central America into the 1850s. The nexus between the political economy of nation-state formation in the postcolonial setting deepened after break of the Federation of Central America in the late 1830s, especially after the rise of coffee and bananas as major regional exports. Independent governments in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica tried to impose “imagined political communities” over these exports that would be different from the colonial identities designed by the Spanish imperialism of the past. In this 20th century context, mestizaje, or ladinizaje, became state sanctioned; it promoted racialized national identities in each of these countries, mostly the idea of ethnicity, albeit with critical regional and subregional differences, particularly between Guatemala and Costa Rica. Historiographies that have been influenced by postmodern sensibilities, particularly critical race theory, the new cultural history, and subaltern studies, have influenced recent understanding of the political economy of race and nationality in Central America.

Article

Runaway Slave Colonies in the Atlantic World  

Tim Lockley

Communities of runaway slaves, more commonly known as “Maroon communities,” were created throughout the Americas. Enslaved people ran away from their owners all the time, often just for a few days, but some decided never to return to slavery and instead found permanent (or semi-permanent) refuge from the harsh life on the plantations in swamps, jungles, forests, and mountains. Sometimes in very small groups of less than ten people, but more usually in much larger numbers, maroon communities attempted to live independently, free from white interference. White responses to maroon communities varied over time and included military assaults and peace treaties.

Article

Slavery and the Pursuit of Freedom in 16th-Century Santo Domingo  

Richard Lee Turits

In the past, scholars of Latin America often assumed that Spanish colonists abandoned the Caribbean for the bullion riches of Mexico and Peru almost immediately after their conquest, while many Caribbeanists have imagined that Barbados, colonized by the British in the mid-1600s, was the “first black slave society.” Yet, in fact, more than a century earlier in the colony of Santo Domingo (then officially known as la Isla Española or simply la Española), European colonists built the first major American plantation economy and society made up mostly of enslaved people. Those held in chains on the island reached into the tens of thousands by the mid-1500s, and Santo Domingo became a pivotal crossroads in the early modern Atlantic. At first the enslaved population included thousands of people the Spanish called “Indians,” taken from other parts of the Caribbean and the Americas, and even an occasional enslaved person of European (Orthodox Christian or Muslim) descent. But after the mid-1500s slavery in Santo Domingo became isolated to people of African descent. This contrasted with the preexisting demography of slavery in southern Europe, where the enslaved were of more diverse geographic origins. Santo Domingo thus initiated a trajectory of racial and plantation slavery whose contours would shape the course of history in the Americas overall. Santo Domingo’s slave-based economy would also, though, be the first to collapse, at the end of the 16th century, partly because of sustained resistance by the enslaved—their continual escape and rebellion—that was costly for planters. The enslaved had composed most of society in the prior century. Now the majority were escaped and, to a lesser extent, freed slaves, living with substantial autonomy as independent peasants dispersed across the countryside. These themes are illuminated through an exploration of one of the earliest freedom suits in the Americas. This suit was won on appeal in Santo Domingo in 1531 through remarkable transatlantic collaboration by family members and sailors as well as through the evident power of notarized documents in the Spanish Empire.

Article

The Leclerc Expedition to Saint-Domingue and the Independence of Haiti, 1802–1804  

Philippe Girard

In December 1801, First Consul Napoléon Bonaparte sent a massive expedition to the French colony of Saint-Domingue (today: Haiti). His goal was to restore direct French rule and overthrow Toussaint Louverture, a former slave who, as governor general of Saint-Domingue, had been suspected of plotting independence. Bonaparte’s secondary goal may have been to reinstate slavery, which France had abolished in 1793–1794. Bonaparte’s brother-in-law, General Victoire Leclerc, headed the expedition. After landing in Saint-Domingue in February 1802 with 20,000 troops, he managed, with great difficulty, to defeat Louverture’s army. He then deported Louverture to France, where he died in exile. In August 1802, however, resistance intensified as plantation laborers became convinced that the French intended to restore slavery. Leclerc, who lost much of his army to yellow fever, embraced increasingly murderous tactics against the black population until he died in November 1802. For one year, Leclerc’s successor, General Donatien de Rochambeau, battled Louverture’s successor, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, in a brutal conflict with genocidal overtones. The bravery of Dessalines’s troops, lack of support from France, epidemic disease, and the renewal of Britain’s war with France eventually doomed the French effort. After the departure of the last remnants of the Leclerc expedition, Dessalines declared the independence of Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti, on January 1, 1804, and then put to death most of the remaining French planters.

Article

Transatlantic Family-Making: Jamaica and Great Britain  

Daniel Livesay

Forming and encouraging families in Jamaica was a struggle from the very beginning of English colonization there, making Caribbean households transatlantic in nature. The explosion of plantation slavery in the 17th century prioritized economic expansion over white family cultivation. Likewise, planters were more concerned with profits than they were with enslaved families. Constant migration from Europe and Africa was therefore needed to keep populations stable for the whole history of slavery in Jamaica. The island’s demographic and political security was always tenuous as a result of this, and officials attempted numerous strategies to encourage family growth, among both the free and enslaved communities. As the island transitioned to freedom, regulating the definition of “proper” families became a weapon from which English authorities wielded imperial power. Racist sentimental toward Caribbean households created social tension when thousands of black Jamaicans emigrated to Britain after the Second World War. Their arrival produced new British households that challenged some British conceptions of domestic family life. Throughout this whole history, migration defined the growth and character of families in the Jamaican-British Atlantic World.